Truth is the Only Client


Moments before tragedy.

(2019) Documentary (GravitasBrendan Sheehan, Samuel Stern, Vincent Bugliosi, Lloyd Weinreb, Howard Willens, Burt Griffin, Alfred Goldberg, Stephen Breyer, G. Robert Blakey, Murray Laulicht, Melvin Eisenberg, H.B. McLain, Bernard Weisman, Steve Barber, David Slawson, David Robarge, Priscilla Johnson McMillan, Ruth Hyde Paine.  Directed by Todd Kwait and Rob Stegman

 

It has been 57 years since the young, vibrant President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and it remains a topic of hot debate. Some say that accused assassin (who himself was murdered by nightclub owner Jack Ruby before he could stand trial) could not possibly have planned and carried out the murder of the President of the United States of America, one of the most protected men on Earth, by himself. Others say that there is no evidence to the contrary. Certainly, the country hasn’t been the same since.

It isn’t a stretch to say that most television programs, movies and documentaries (not to mention the legions of books published) on the assassin have fallen firmly into the conspiracy camp. As judge and assassination buff Sheehan (who acts as host here) asserts, “the money is in conspiracy theories.” People tend to want to believe in cabals and secrets, sometimes in the face of legitimate evidence – hence Q-Anon.

The filmmakers seek out surviving members of the Warren Commission – mostly junior attorneys and researchers, who are now in their 80s – to talk about the case, the evidence and the investigation. The filmmakers readily admit that Chief Justice Earl Warren, who headed the commission, made a major misstep when he suppressed the autopsy photos of the late President, which show that the bullets that struck him came from behind him on a downward angle. While Warren sought to spare the former First Lady as well as the millions of mourning Americans the horror of the damage done to the President’s body, the suppression gave the Commission an aura that they were hiding something.

The documentary takes the stance that the Warren Commission exhaustively went through the evidence and came to the proper conclusion. This isn’t going to sit well with conspiracy theorists; I have to admit, as someone who had doubts about the veracity of a lone crazed gunman assassinating the President of the United States, I found it hard to have long-held beliefs assailed by evidence to the contrary.

For example, the “magic bullet theory” which posits that the kill shot did all sorts of aerial physics-defying gymnastics in order to go through the President and impact Texas Governor John Connelly falls apart when we realize that Connelly wasn’t sitting directly in front of the President, but in a jump seat slightly to the President’s left – which means the bullet would have gone straight through both men.

=Sheehan is relentless in showing that there is no evidence of a shot originating from the Grassy Knoll, no evidence of Soviet, Cuban or mob involvement, and certainly not that there was any sort of grand conspiracy to get Kennedy out of the way to clear the way for the Vietnam War which put billions of dollars into the pockets of the military-industrial complex. I have to admit, the evidence is presented in a very intelligent and thorough manner, even if it gets a little dry at times as we listen to one old man after another talking about the case.

This is a rare documentary in that we not only get to hear from people directly involved with the investigation, but also with some witnesses including Ruth Paine, in whose house Marina Oswald stayed at the time of the assassination and where the assassin stowed his rifle before carting it off to the Texas Book Repository. There is also some footage and images that have not been shown publicly before, although much of the footage has been seen many times before.

It is very hard to change people’s minds of long-held belief. Most people aren’t all that open-minded to begin with, particularly when it comes to something as emotional as the Kennedy assassination. This is not always an easy documentary to sit through, but anyone who wants to understand how the Warren Commission arrived at its conclusions should see it. Even conspiracy theorists should give it a look; after all, there’s nothing like having your ideas challenged to give you the opportunity to prove them once again to yourself.

REASONS TO SEE: Very scholarly in tone.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very reliant on talking heads.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images (autopsy photos) and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sheehan is a judge in Ohio who argued cases before Griffin, who was a junior attorney on the Warren Commission; Sheehan, who had long been a Kennedy buff, struck up a friendship with Griffin based on that.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Google Play, Redbox, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/6/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews, Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: JFK
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Love, Weddings and Other Disasters

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BnB HELL


I know why the caged girl screams.

(2017) Thriller (108 Media) Kimberly Woods, Rudy Dobrev, Carol Stanzione, Timothy Lee DePriest, Victor Turpin, John Stevenson, Olivia Rush, Jessica Graham, Shayla Famouri, Tallie L. Brinson, Mark Halau, Stefanie Maxwell. Directed by Andrew Jordan

 

There’s something about staying in a hotel, motel or bed and breakfast that is appealing. Staying in a room that is clean and fresh in a place we’re unfamiliar with appeals to the adventurous side. Some hotels should be checked out of more quickly than others. Other places to stay shouldn’t be checked into at all.

Momma’s Hollywood Hideaway is one such place. Run by a rather curmudgeonly matron who insists that everyone call her Momma (Stanzione), her bed and breakfast promises spectacular views of the Hollywood Hills (and delivers on them) although the rundown, ramshackle inn has seen better days. The interior design leaves a bit to be desired as well, coming with decor that one can only call eclectic – apparently Momma has a thing for wizards. She also has a thing for disappearing guests.

One of them is the twin sister of Willa (Woods) who is investigating her sister’s disappearance. Her last known residence was Momma’s Hollywood Hideaway, although Momma claims not to remember the young girl despite the fact she’d only checked in a month ago and let’s face it, the bed and breakfast isn’t exactly teeming with throngs of guests. In fact, the only other one currently in the BnB is Marco (Dobrev), a student waiting for school to start so he can check into the dormitory he’s slated for. Although the two don’t hit it off right away, they quickly become fast friends.

Other than wizard figurines, the rooms come equipped with video cameras that guests can record positive reviews of the BnB so that Momma can post them as online advertisements. So far her plan hasn’t worked exactly well but it does give Willa a means of finding out whether or not her twin sister positively stayed there and maybe a clue as to what happened to her. Something strange is going on at Momma’s Hollywood Hideaway and it isn’t all about the creepy neighbor (Halau).

I think we’ve seen this movie before. Videotapes of previous guests who have come to grisly ends? Been there. A proprietor who is rude and distrustful? Done that. A creepy red herring? Got the t-shirt. Quite frankly, there isn’t a whole lot of originality here in terms of plot and character. I will say that Willa and Marco seem to be more sensible than most horror film heroes so there is that going for it. However, that’s not enough to overcome a pedestrian script which occasionally seems to be flailing around in the dark, quite literally sometimes.

Woods actually makes a pretty decent scream queen. She is tough, single-minded and pretty – she has all the ingredients to make the fan-boy heart beat faster. Dobrev is also an attractive hero/hunk and he works well together with Woods here. The rest of the cast does as well as they can do considering that many of them are pretty much stock horror film characters.

The most cardinal sin that Jordan commits as director, however, is the lack of suspense. Movies like this live and die on the tension they build and there really isn’t very much. I found my attention wandering at various times of the movie which is not a very good sign. Most people who are likely to rent or buy this will know the difference early on between the red herrings and the usual suspects. Guessing who the true killer is won’t take long for most.

There are some supernatural overtones to the film but they are never fully explored and it feels almost like the script was rewritten during shooting to tone them down. I get the sense that the supernatural elements are meant to be misdirection but they kind of peter out. I would have liked to see it explored a little more; it could have made the final film more interesting.

At first I characterized this as a horror film but I eventually changed my mind. The film is light on gore and nudity and while there are women in peril (and one in bra and panties in a kennel) the average horror fan will likely find this a bit too tame for his tastes. Torture porn this ain’t.

I’ve definitely seen worse suspense movies than this. The acting is good and while the script is a little on the cliché side, at least it hits most of the right notes. There are moments that are pretty enjoyable here in a guilty pleasure kind of way and although I realize I’m damning the film with faint praise for all its flaws it doesn’t miss the mark by much. If you wanted to invest your time and money into a viewing of this I wouldn’t say that either was wasted but I wouldn’t say you’ll be discovering a hidden gem either.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the murder scenes were well put-together. The supernatural overtones were nice, although I wish they had been developed a little bit better.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is heavy on the clichés, light on suspense. Horror fans will likely find this a little bit too tame.
FAMILY VALUES: Here there be violence, sensuality and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dobrev is best known for his work on the soap opera Days of Our Lives.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube (coming soon to Vudu)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/7/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Motel Hell
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Birdshot